After my rant last week about the lack of LGBT characters in mainstream fiction, I thought I really ought to make some kind of suggestion as to what the differences are, (and there aren’t many) in order to help writers who want to write LGBT characters but haven’t plucked up the courage yet.
I really did have to rack my brain to find something useful to say because there isn’t much. We are human just like the rest of the world. For those looking for tips on writing gay male characters, I’m not going to be helpful in this post. I’ve stuck to what I know…lesbians.
Before I start, I wanted to make a couple of points reflecting on the discussion the last post had. Firstly, it’s not just LGBT people who have a distinct lack of a market in the literary world, there are a multitude of minority groups that need adequate representation and don’t. It sucks for all of us, not just LGBT people. Secondly, a lot of people speculated whether it was publishers blocking the publication of LGBT character driven novels. I don’t have the answer to that, but I thought it was an interesting point. Last, I still remain surprised that TV is now at the forefront of progression instead of books – wasn’t there a time when books paved the way for new thought in society? i’m not sure how comfortable I am with TV doing it for us.
There’s this whole language thing to describe yourself – or not describe yourself as the case may be. Some LGBT (and minority) people hate ticking boxes, so they make a point of not identifying, that’s fine. For those that identify as well as saying ‘I’m a lesbian or bisexual’ there’s this entire spectrum of slang words to describe yourself. Take this with the pinch of salt, I don’t want to offend anyone, but this is the way a lot of people I know explain it:
A point to note here is: this is a generational thing as much as it is personal preference. I have some friends in their 50’s and 60’s who are feminine but would still view themselves as a dyke – it’s just a word that was used frequently in previous years. That being said, I don’t know many people my age that would refer to themselves as a dyke. It seems to have taken a much more derogatory meaning in current trends. Also, and I hate this, but this scale is a little stereotypical, but I guess stereotypes come from somewhere.
A lipstick lesbian is barely discernible from a straight girly girl – dresses, make up, heels. We’ve all been there and got in trouble for trying to chat up a straight girl thinking they were a lipstick lesbian!… Or is that just me?!
Femmes, are one step down, make up – maybe heels, probably very few or no dresses. Still interested in girly things.
Boi’s are the androgynous bunch. Mixed bag of clothing, little if any make up and a mix of boys and girls clothes, usually sporty.
Butches tend to wear boys clothes, behave a little more masculine and definitely don’t do makeup.
Dykes think stereotype: shave heads, flannel shirts, very masculine – unless they are older lesbians in which case it’s just a word much as I would use lesbian.
Another point to note is about the dating of language in a novel. If you are looking for current lingo for your story this is it. But be warned just like ‘dyke’ has gone in, out and back into fashion again I am sure the other words will too. Lesbian is probably the safest word to stick too.
In pretty woman Vivian wakes up all glam and slings Edward’s shirt on. Great, but as a lesbian, if you’re not too different size wise, you can actually steal all of each other’s clothes. This is a ‘thing’ some lesbians love it (see merging below) others hate it (me and the wife do NOT share clothes!)
Merging starts with the clothes, slowly but surely you end up dressing the same, matching jumpers, or converse, then all of a sudden you have the same haircut, and before you know it, you look, sound and think the same. All a bit dangerous as most couples end up imploding on each other in a messy break up like no other you have seen.
4. and 5. U-Hauling, Lesbian Bed Death and Gold Stars
U-hauling – when you start dating and then shortly after the first sleep over, your new partner basically never leaves. You move from being fuck buddies to living together with 3 cats in as many weeks. It happens a lot. It’s linked to merging, and always leads to lesbian bed death.
Which literally does what it says on the tin. You become so wrapped up in your comfortable ‘relationship spread’ you stop being sexual beings and ultimately stop schtupping each other.
A gold star is a woman who has only ever slept with other women, and a term used quite a lot in general conversation.
6. Be ‘in the know’ about Media
I just moaned about books, but I could moan even louder about films and TV. Although, there is an emergence of odd characters here and there in soap etc, there isn’t really an entire genre out there to keep you going much longer than a few days.
That being said, Netflix goes above and beyond to pull a rather healthy sized portion of LGBT films. But anyone whose anyone knows there are only a handful of lesbian tv series to talk about, and trust me, they do get talked about: L-Word is the most famous, a 5 season saga following a group of lesbians in LA if you are a lesbian and haven’t watched it… tut, shame on you. I don’t think I know a single one who hasn’t seen it!
Lip Service – the English, or should I say Scottish version of the same kind of thing that only had 2 seasons. And the three recent prison series – Bad Girls, Wentworth, and Orange is The New Black.
By way of magazines I am sure there are more, but the two lesbian ones that spring to mind in the UK are Diva, and G3. GT for the boys.
We are special. We get a whole festival dedicated to celebrating girl on girl action, or boy on boy or…and so on.
If you’re young, then pride is non negotiable, it’s a full-blown meat fest of shenanigans and willing victims all vying for their next shag. Of course, what I meant to say was, it’s a well established tradition to celebrate the political battles so many had when fighting for our rights… It is, obviously, but if you’re young… Erm. Yeah. Moving on.
There are even week-long pride events in places like Gran Canaria… definitely been there twice! didn’t sleep a wink for 7 days!
As far as I am aware, science hasn’t yet, been able to make a baby with just sperm, or just an egg. Although I have been hearing about this successes with three parent babies, for those who have mitochondrial diseases. But for LGBT people this is the major area you come a cropper.
8.a. Fertility treatment if you go through a clinic is MEGA bucks. Like THOUSANDS. I hear the average couple spends 25K on getting pregnant…
8.b. If you’re a lesbian its a shit load easier to get pregnant than if you’re a gay guy. Girls have an oven handy, all they need is the *ahem* *shudders*. That is one heck of a shopping trip – and yes, it is just like a catalogue!
8.c. Access to fertility treatment (in the UK) is unfortunately postcode lottery. It’s unfair, unjust and quite frankly disgusting. God forbid you’re a lesbian with actual fertility problems. No support, no support groups, no professional unless in a fertility clinic can answer your questions. Leading to frantic googling which often results in discovering you have toenail warts or something else equally ridiculous.
8.d. Your not always welcome in mummy groups either (I got ousted out of two). Don’t get me wrong, I am sure some are fine. But not always. It’s lonely being a mum on maternity leave. But it’s even lonelier as a lesbian mum.
9. The Questions
For some reason, people think because my spouse has a vagina instead of a penis, that they can just ask whatever they like. Let me give you a list of questions I have been asked recently:
“How did you… you know… choose?” Choose what? dinner? who was putting the washing on? OHH you mean who was going to get pregnant. Each to their own. The answers different for every couple, but 9 times out of 10 its bloody obvious to us, it’s just not obvious to you!
“So who’s the dad?” I try very VERY hard not to whip out my angry lesbian and smash whoever said it over the head. Instead, I smile sweetly and correct their grotesque language “actually he doesn’t have a dad, he has a donor.”
“Oh, so do you know the da…donor then?” Not that it’s any of your business but no, we don’t. We have a file of information, and before you ask, (which they always do) no he can’t contact him when he’s 18, that’s UK donors only. It’s a difficult personal decision, and believe you me, there are as many ways of getting pregnant in a lesbian relationship as there are hot meals in a year, and each one is a personal choice to that couple and results in a different type of relationship with the: donor, donor daddy, daddy, co-parent.
“Sooooooo….What does he call you?” UGH. You know, children actually have a habit of making their own choices. Most lesbians I know get called mummy and mama, but our boy decided to call me a variety of things from mum-mum, mum and mummy but the wife is most definitely mama. *shrugs* – kids.
“So how did you get pregnant?” I’m sorry, I don’t recall asking you what position you bonked your wife in the night you got her up the duff… what was it? Cow girl? doggie? or just plain old vanilla missionary? How the chuff do you think I got pregnant? I used some sperm, and no. It wasn’t with a turkey baster before you ask!
“So how do you have sex?” Omg. really? Stop doing that scissor motion with your fingers. STOP IT. It’s cringe worthy. You know, you could use your imagination! If you can’t then don’t ask me unless you’re researching it for a book (I’ll help then), otherwise I want to know the intricate details of your sex life.
10. One of You Game
There’s this game, a lot of lesbians plays it, although it comes under many a different name. But, essentially, you lesbian spot – it happened in a lift the other day. The wife and I absent-mindedly entered a lift behind another couple with a pram. It wasn’t till I looked up, noticed the hair, general stature, and distinctly butch physique of one of the couple that I realised – they were one of us. My eyes shot to the wife to see if she’d noticed. The piercing glare she fired back told me she had. It was now a race. A battle to see who would break first. Who would be first to nudge the other in a child like way and whisper without getting caught ‘that’s one of you’.
10. The Serious Side
It’s a sad fact that there is still some inherent inequality in the UK. Although the government has made progress and passed a same-sex marriage bill, if you think it’s provided equality, you are sadly mistaken. Did you know, I can’t divorce my wife on the grounds of adultery? Yeah, outrageous isn’t it?
But it’s not just the government. People still shout at you in the streets – some kid did it in my town over the summer, “err that’s a lesbian,” he bellowed as I raised an eyebrow and ushered my son away from the ignoramus. My wife had a knife held to her throat when she was at uni. Bigotry and homophobia is still rife, and the thing is, if your normal, then you’re unlikely to see it. To feel the constant pressure from being different, from having to decide whether you can be open or whether you need to hide yourself from the next colleague you’re being introduced to. I’m not saying if you write an LGBT character you need to go all feminist bra burning political. I’m just saying that actually, your characters facing the odd snipe, or dirty look, sadly, is realistic.
The darker side to this, is the wealth of statistics and information about mental illness, drugs and ill health. I’ve rambled for long enough, so I don’t need to add them all in here, besides, book research is healthy. But I know for a fact that suicide and depression is rife amongst LGBT people. Some statistics suggest drugs and smoking is too, especially with younger LGBT people and equally poorer health outcomes too.